Budget Watch

Bicam agrees to give P17 billion to NTF-ELCAC in 2022

Mara Cepeda

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Bicam agrees to give P17 billion to NTF-ELCAC in 2022

BICAM APPROVes. The 18th Congress' bicameral conference committee on the proposed P5.024-trillion budget for 2022 approves its report on the budget bill on December 15, 2021, at the EDSA Shangri-la Manila. Photo courtesy of Office of Senator Sonny Angara

Senators initially slashed the NTF-ELCAC's proposed 2022 budget by P24 billion, but they forge a compromise with House lawmakers

MANILA, Philippines – The bicameral conference committee agreed to allot P17 billion for the controversial anti-insurgency task force of President Rodrigo Duterte in the proposed 2022 national budget.

Senate finance committee chairman Sonny Angara said this in a chance interview with reporters on Wednesday, December 15, the same day the bicam approved its report on the P5.024-trillion 2022 budget. 

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) received a budget of P19.1 billion in 2021.

Angara said 95% of the NTF-ELCAC’s allocations under the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) would be for the Barangay Development Fund, an incentive for barangays that have been cleared of communist insurgents.

“‘Yun ‘yung menu for projects na pinagpipilian ng mga local government units, so ‘yun, almost all senators are united there. Ayaw ilagay sa mga maintenance, ‘yung mga training, ganoon. Gusto nakikita talaga ng tao ‘yung resulta noong proyekto,” said Angara. 

(That’s the menu for projects that local government units choose from, so almost all senators are united there. They did not want to put the money in maintenance, training, and the like. They want the people to see the results of the projects.)

Bicam agrees to give P17 billion to NTF-ELCAC in 2022

Angara said this was the consensus of the House lawmakers and senators at the bicam. Senators initially moved to slash P24 billion from the P28.1 billion that the lower chamber initially approved for NTF-ELCAC. The House is dominated by allies of the President. 

Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon earlier warned that the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Fund could be used as campaign funds in 2022. As of November 8, the task force was able to complete only 26 out of its 2,000 projects in 2021.

Senators also once threatened to defund the anti-communist task force for continuously red-tagging government critics and civilians. 

But the persistent lobbying of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, a former police chief, prompted senators to raise NTF-ELCAC’s budget to P10 billion in their version of the 2022 GAB. The bicam eventually settled on a P16-billion budget for NTF-ELCAC in 2022.

Angara said apart from the NTF-ELCAC, they also increased appropriations for the Department of Health for the government’s pandemic response, including the risk allowance and benefits of health frontliners, COVID-19 booster shots, and testing of employees who will be returning to work.

As of posting, the bicam report is being routed among lawmakers for their signature.

The House and the Senate are expected to ratify the bicam report during their respective plenary sessions on Wednesday, signaling the 18th Congress’ passage of the proposed 2022 national budget.

Duterte must sign the 2022 GAB by December 31 so that the government would not have to operate on a reenacted budget in 2022. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.